Ethiopia imposes new restrictions on sharing war information

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Addis Ababa (AFP) – War-stricken Ethiopia has announced new rules against sharing information about battlefield results in the war against Tigrayan rebels, a move that could result in sanctions against journalists.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government declared a nationwide state of emergency earlier this month as fighters from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Tigray (TPLF) advance to the capital, the latest turning point in a conflict brutal that lasts for a year.

International alarm is mounting over the escalation of war in Africa’s second most populous country, with worried foreign governments urging their citizens to leave.

The new decree published Thursday evening indicated that it was “forbidden to broadcast in any communication system of military movements, results on the battlefield” which have not been officially published by the government.

“Security forces will take necessary action against those who violated” the order, he said in a possible warning to news outlets and social media accounts that reported rebel claims for gains territorial.

The government also banned residents “from using various types of media platforms to directly or indirectly support the terrorist group” – a reference to the TPLF – and warned of unspecified consequences for anyone ignoring the decree.

The state of emergency imposed on November 2 allows the authorities to enlist citizens who possess weapons or to suspend any media suspected of “providing moral support directly or indirectly” to the TPLF.

The latest decree also bans anyone from calling for “a transitional government,” days after a major opposition party, the Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC), issued a statement calling for an end to the fighting and the establishment of an interim administration to facilitate dialogue.

“During the term of the interim administration, all parties will begin negotiations on the formation of an inclusive transitional government that will last for 18 months. No major player will be excluded from these negotiations,” OFC said on Wednesday.

War in Ethiopia erupted in November 2020 when Abiy, the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, sent troops to the Tigray region to overthrow his ruling TPLF party.

He said the move was a response to TPLF attacks on federal army camps and promised a quick victory, but by the end of June the rebels had recaptured most of Tigray, including its capital Mekele.

Since then, the TPLF has pushed into neighboring areas of Amhara and Afar, and this week it claimed to have seized a town just 220 kilometers (135 miles) from Addis Ababa.

On Wednesday, state media reported that Abiy, a former army lieutenant colonel, had arrived at the front line to lead a counteroffensive, handing over regular duties to his deputy.

The fighting has killed thousands of people and pushed hundreds of thousands into conditions bordering on starvation, according to UN estimates.

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